The graceful gymnasts of Assam

In 2016 Summer Olympics, a gymnast from the northeastern state of Tripura stormed into limelight by being the first Indian female gymnast to compete in the Olympics, and the first Indian gymnast to do so in 52 years. Gymnastics as every other sport calls for precision, focus and determination. The core ingredients that every gymnast need to possess are flexibility, balance and control. Some take it as a physical activity  and others as a means for participating in competitions.

However, the irony is very few from this part of the country make it to the finals or international level despite of being a hub of talent in the sports arena. Lack of infrastructure, poor facilities and sometimes financial constraints hamper their progress.  MUMEMINAZ ZAMAN tries to analyse the gymnastics arena in Assam by meeting a few promising gymnasts of the state

ALISHA KHAN

Alisha Khan training young gymnasts
Alisha Khan training young gymnasts

The gymnastics floor of the Deshbhakta Tarun Ram Phukan Indoor Stadium, located in the premises of the Nehru Stadium, Guwahati is one of the training grounds to host young talents. One can see the children between the age group of 6-10 years, bouncing, tumbling and flipping vigorously.

Juggling with those tiny tots is a familiar face, Alisha Khan. Alisha who has been training her young brigade with the skills and techniques which she has endured from a tender age. Gymnastics coach, Alisha, started her career in gymnastics when she was just six. Being a stubborn kid, she has always taken her passion fervently. She specializes in rhythmic gymnastics and has played in district, state and national level sports events since 1996. Alisha, who is also a mother, gives credit to her family, for the endless support and encouragement she has received throughout her career.

Alisha has a long list of achievements in her gymnastics career, some of them include the following: In 1996, Alisha was adjudged as the best gymnast in district level event in Nagaon, where she also gained the position of an all rounder in every apparatus. She won a bronze medal in 1997, Assam Olympic which was held in Tezpur. Her performance on floor exercise, won her a bronze medal at a national level event held in Tripura in 2000. Apart from that Alisha also participated in the National Games 2007, Guwahati, where she performed rhythmic gymnastics and gained a fifth position.

Earlier, Alisha was a gymnastics coach at the Faculty Higher Secondary School, Guwahati from 2010 until she joined as a state level gymnastics coach (on contractual basis) at the Deshbhakta Tarun Ram Phukan Indoor Stadium, Guwahati since 2014, where she trains young gymnasts.

Alisha told The Thumb Print, “Assam has seen a major transformation in the sports sector, but it’s sad to perceive that only a few make it to the finals, national or international level. The reason behind this, is poor infrastructure and lack of proper facilities. Assam has a huge potential and can produce some good gymnasts, only if better opportunity and platform is provided from the region.”

Whether it’s a tumble on the parallel beams, vaulting, floor exercise or spinning free hand, gymnastics requires a lot of free space both in terms of height and width of the performing space. Better infrastructure, safety equipment, props and apparatus like sponged mats, balancing beam, uneven bars, etc are some of the indispensable elements required in performing gymnastics, but the harsh reality is most of the required equipment in the indoor stadium are outdated.

“Apart from the poor condition of the gymnastics equipment and space constraint, we also need more coaches and helpers. Usually, the ratio should be 1:10, but here we have to train double the ratio single-handedly. Even though we have mentioned about the constraints to the Association, until now there was no response,” said Alisha.

She also expressed that, some gymnasts move to other states for training where they can get better facilities, but it becomes an expensive affair which is not possible for many. Alisha who always aspired to make it big in the National level, could not fulfill her dreams due to lack of facilities, which is still prevailing in the gymnastics arena. Now, she has one goal – to bring out international level players from her young squad.

TULSI RABHA

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A dancer at heart, a fitness enthusiast, and a gymnast, Tulsi Rabha, who is in her early twenties participated in various dance competitions, before she joined gymnastics. In a bid to improve her dance posture, she took up gymnastics, and later it turned into a passion. A multi talented persona, Tulsi aspires to do well in the national level and also continue to dance, however, gymnastics will be her top most priority.

While she manifested her journey from dance to gymnastics, Tulsi said, “Earlier I used to dance, and have participated in competitions like ‘Dance India Dance’, Season 4, and I was selected for the mega contest there and was among the top 100 contestants. I also participated in ‘Dance Bangla Dance’, Season 8, where I was adjudged among the top finalist there. Later to upgrade my posture I joined gymnastics, and now gymnastics has turned up into a passion for me, and I am very serious about it.”

Tulsi, started practicing gymnastics since 2014, after she completed her Higher Secondary. At present she is pursuing her graduation from Cotton University. She practices gymnastics at the Tarun Ram Phookan Indoor Stadium and is further planning to pursue a certified and professional course on gymnastics after completing her graduation, for which she also has to move out of the state.

She has performed in District level games in Nagaon between 2014-2015, where she obtained a third position in Beam and Vaulting, Apart from that in 2016 she participated in a state level games, in Silchar, where she performed Artistic Gymnastics. Tulsi, was also honoured with the title of Miss Fitness, where she gained a first position in a competition organized by the All Assam Body Building Association, held at Bongaigaon in 2015.

Tulsi, started her career with artistic gymnastics, but gradually rhythmic interested her more since it has grace and she also loves to dance with the skillful use of apparatus like ribbons, hoop, ball and freehand which are used in the sport. It is an amalgamation of sports and arts, which will cater to her interests, both in dance and gymnastics.

“The major difficulty that I faced in the initial period was the issue of flexibility. In gymnastics one need to have a flexible body, and since I have started late it was a bit ardous for me. At a tender age one can catch every step instantly and the body flexibility improves, and gradually the body becomes more adaptable to even complex steps. However, I was adamant enough to fulfil my passion and I also believe that practice makes a man perfect,” said Tulsi.

Balancing studies and sports also becomes difficult at times.  “I have to practice and remain outstation for participating in competitions during my examinations. Considering the fact that I am into sports the college authorities also provides me with the necessary provisions,” she said. Tulsi, is now preparing for the national levels, and is training hard to thrive it, however the dearth of coach in the state and poor infrastructure is a major cause of concern for the aspiring gymnasts.

MINAKSHI BARMAN 

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Minakshi Barman is a young and dynamic gymnast who has been soaring higher, ever since her father took her to practice gymnastics at the age of seven at the Indoor Stadium. At present she is a student of ninth standard, studying in Boragaon Pragjyotish Senior Secondary School and specializes in Artistic Gymnastics. Even though she is just fourteen the spirit of sportsmanship in her never faded whether she won or lost.

“In my first ever performance, I participated in the Northeast tournament, which was held in Tripura and Manipur in 2012, but could not obtain any position, since I was just a beginner and could hardly do flips and somersault. Later in the district level games which was held in Nagaon, I won three gold and two silver medals. This was followed by the National Games which was held in Delhi than in Allahabad, unfortunately I could not make a mark in these events,” she said. During the South Asian Games, 2016, which was held in Guwahati and Shillong, their gymnastics classes were closed for a period of one to two months. Meanwhile, there was a competition of Assam Olympics in Silchar and since the classes were closed, they practised in the fields and prepared for the competition. “It was a challenge for me to beat a strong competitor and I won two gold and three silver medals in women’s beam and floor exercise events,” said Minakshi.

As a gymnast, Minakshi, has participated in various inter school, district, state and national events. Apart from that, she also participated in the Women Fitness Championship, organized by All Assam Women Fitness Championship, in 2015 which was held in Bongaingaon and gained a third position. Later, in 2016, she obtained a first position in the event which was held in Mangaldoi.

Expressing her views on the present scenario of gymnastics in the state, Minakshi said, “I have played five national level games, but could not win any medal, because we did not get the facilities which is required to be a good gymnast. Firstly, there is lack of coach, we have fifty or more students and only two coaches, this becomes a cumbersome job both for us as well as the coaches. Secondly, our gymnastic hall is not upto the mark, it becomes difficult for us to practice some moves or hard elements like doubles.” Minakshi, is hopeful that, if provided with better facilities the aspiring gymnasts can perform and practice well and also win a medal at the national level.